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Finland, September 7, 1998

A Suomi Sunday

I had an amazing Suomi Sunday. Did you?

I LOVE the Stockman's experience!
The joy of shopping till I drop
Count the people and the phones
More phones than people!

This past weekend, I wandered out to Russia's northern neighbor, Finland (Suomi in Finnish).

Historically fought over by the conquistadors of the north, Finland has changed hands many times. Most recently, it was a Russian territory, even sponsoring a Czar, Alexander II, before becoming independent in that historic year of 1917. Since it did not participate in the Grand Experiment of Socialism, but had 70+ years to find herself, Finland did not have as many Russian traits as I expected. It is Scandinavia, unlike Latvia and Estonia, who are running headlong towards their modern Baltic neighbors.

When I stepped of the train in Helsinki, I was impressed. 'This is the west,' I thought as I saw beautiful people stroll through their beautiful city, on a beautiful day. Initially, I was in quite of a culture shock, and I kept asking myself why I lived in Moscow, if this paradise was so close.

After a day or two of shopping, sightseeing, shopping, partying, shopping, and wandering (did I mention shopping?), I came away with four very distinct impressions of Helsinki and its environs.

  • Finland is clean! Now I don't just mean clean in the lack of litter, for the prolific graffiti destroyed it's chance at matching Singapore, but the clean visual lines, and distinct colors that only Scandinavia can express. This is the land of IKEA and ScanDesign! So nice to get away from the New Russian Kitsch look of Moscow.
  • Beautiful People! Maybe I have been in Russia too long, or maybe I work too much, but the Finns are breathtakingly beautiful. Ann and I twisted our necks checking out the locals as we walked around town. All those blonde beauties were amazing. The Finns did have an odd look though, kinda androgynous actually. The women did not dress in heels, skirts, and tight shirts like Russian dev's and the men were not in all black with attitude to match, like the Russian men do.
  • Cellular Phones! I'm not sure if it is when you're born, or when you get a Finnish passport, but every Finn old enough to talk has a cell phone. I am not exaggerating! Five-year-olds chat with their siblings and parents, club kids call each other from across the bar, and half of the bus is trying to whisper pivotal moments of their lives into their phones. The sounds of phones ringing and phones crashing to the floor, are stronger memories for me, than the birds or the music of Finland.
  • Finland is slow! The first two days, I enjoyed a break from the fast pace of Moscow. It was nice not to feel like I had to run to the metro, or push and shove to get out of the metro, but after a while I wanted the speed back. The Finns already achieved perfection, so they do not need to change much, while Moscow, not close to the Finnish model yet, is racing the fall of the ruble to get there.
On the train home, Ann and I were talking about a Finish Possibility, and both of us decided that although it has a better quality of life and nicer inhabitants, Finland does not have the grim, grit, and gumption that makes Moscow the center of Eastern Europe Experience!